How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce

written by

Emma Heptonstall Image

date published

14th October 2020

How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce

So you’ve made up your mind. You’ve thought it through; you know this isn’t just a rough patch. Whether it’s lockdown that was the final straw or it’s simply your time – you know. But how to tell your spouse you want a divorce?

This blog takes you through all the practical and mental preparation you need. It gets you in a place where you can handle objections that come your way, and ready for that tricky conversation.

Stay safe

The best way to tell your husband/wife you want a divorce is on your own, face to face. But the absolute priority here is your safety, and that of your children. If you are concerned about staying safe once they know, get out first. Pack a bag. Make sure you have key documents for you and the children (passports, birth certificates etc.). And get to a place of safety.

I have a whole chapter on divorce and domestic violence in my book How To Be A Lady Who Leaves. Get yourself a copy here.

Plan what to say

Planning what you’re going to say helps both you and them. It helps you because it means you come across clearly and more confidently. When we don’t plan important conversations, especially if they are emotive, we can find ourselves spinning in circles.

You need to get clear in your own mind what you want to say. There are three main points you will need to get across:

  • That you no longer want to be married and want a divorce
  • Why this is the case
  • What you want to happen next.

You need to think about all of these elements (we will go into them in more depth in this blog, don’t worry). Once you’ve read this blog, take some time to plan it all out. Write out bullet points. Chat to yourself out loud if you can, or practice with a friend, and hear yourself saying it.

How does it feel? Do you believe you? If you don’t believe you, your spouse won’t either.

Planning what you’ll say helps calm your nerves too. Just like preparing for an interview, exam or giving a talk.

Know your why

Saying you want a divorce is fairly straightforward – however difficult it might feel. It’s the next bit that’s tricky. How do you explain why? This part is important to help your husband/wife accept and understand what you’re saying. It shows you’ve put thought into this and aren’t just reacting in a moment of hurt or anger.

So think about why divorce is your next step. What has got you here? How is it different to the life you want to be living? What is important to you?

Plan to answer objections

You know the person you’re married to best. Consider what they’re going to say and plan your response. If you’ve thought about why you want a divorce you already know their objections won’t change your mind.

They may beg and plead with you to stay. If that’s the case, acknowledge the feelings. They are in a different place in the grief cycle to you – you can read more about the grief cycle here.

Acknowledging and validating how your spouse responds to the news doesn’t mean you’re changing your mind. It simply means you are showing respect, and as far as possible, setting the foundations for a more collaborative divorce.

So give them space to say what they need to say – so long as it isn’t abusive. Remember you never have to be available for abuse.

Think about timing

When’s the best time to have this difficult conversation? There’s no one perfect time – it will depend on your personal circumstances. How to tell your spouse you want a divorce? In general, it’s best done when you are both calm, as unrushed as possible, and have time to talk. So just before rushing out the door for work is not ideal. Just before bed isn’t great. When the children are sleeping but you have some time before your own bedtime might be a good slot to aim for.

If you are worried about how they will react, choose a neutral place, such as a café. You are both more likely to keep your cool.

Speak from your own point of view

No one can argue with how you feel. And it’s important to own what you’re saying. Speaking from your own point of view means talking from you using ‘I’ statements for example “I feel…” “For me…”

So don’t say, ‘This marriage isn’t working’ as though that’s objective fact (which can be debated).  Instead, say “I’ve been feeling as though we’ve drifted apart for a long time now”, or whatever is relevant to you.

You can never be wrong about your own point of view. Of course, they will have their point of view too! And that’s fine. The best-case scenario is that you can speak openly with each other, listening to the other person. If you have decided you want a divorce, this conversation is unlikely to be about changing your mind. It’s more about being honest about how you are feeling and what you want to happen.

What do you want to happen next?

With any difficult conversation it is a good idea to think about what you want to get out of it before you start. So think about what you want to happen next. This helps both of you move forward. And it prevents the conversation focussing on who is right or wrong.

It may be that mediation is the next step for you both. Either because you think there’s still a chance you can save your marriage, or to help you separate peacefully. It may be that one of you needs to agree to move out. Or it may be that you need to rearrange the house so you can co-habit for a short while.

Think about what your ideal outcome for the conversation is, and be ready with reasons. This reinforces the message that you’ve thought everything through and are serious.

Be consistent

Be consistent in your message. Don’t say you want a divorce then suggest reconciliation, or giving it another go, the next week. If you suspect that your spouse may be on the autistic spectrum this is doubly important.

Again, preparation will help here. It’s a bit like media training for politicians – know what key points you want to get across and stick to them! This doesn’t mean ignoring anything your husband/wife has to say on the matter. You can address their concerns.

But be clear about your own reasons, your needs, and your expectations for what happens next. This helps create a sense of clarity and stability at a difficult time.

Get Divorce Ready

As I said at the start – safety comes before everything else in divorce. How to tell your spouse you want a divorce? Take care of your emotional, physical and financial safety first.

And the next most important thing to doing divorce well is preparation. Not only does it save a lot of time and emotional spiralling, it will save you money.

If you are safe, Get Divorce Ready, my group programme, may be for you. It will help how to tell your spouse you want a divorce, because you’ll get your ducks in a row and have chance to work through your feelings. So you’ll know exactly why you want to get divorced and what you want to happen next.

Get Divorce Ready starts on 27 October 2020. You get eight weeks of group coaching calls, weekly videos and workbooks, and a secret facebook group to support each other. It takes you through exactly what you need to do, when and how, to Get Divorce Ready.

And best of all? It’s free to members of The Absolute Academy. You just have to join by 26 October 2020. You can sign up here

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit


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